The Gift of Family Stories 

JJ Langston
December 12, 2023

In this season of giving, here’s a gift idea that will cost you very little but will be a meaningful step in building your family legacy. It may even help offset some of the crazy conversations that have become synonymous with holiday gatherings.  

Consider sharing the stories of your family and your philanthropic journey as a gift to your family this holiday season.  Share the heartfelt stories of what you care about, family successes, hardships, sticking together and caring for others.  Share why you give charitably, how you give, and most importantly, to whom you give. Your stories reflect your values, and forming a cohesive narrative about your values is critical for the wellbeing of your family and foundational to designing your legacy. 

Sharing family stories and values creates the most resilient children and the strongest families. In his book The Secrets of Happy Families, author Bruce Feiler shares longitudinal studies showing that children who know about their family histories, stories and values are healthier, happier, and more resilient, even after traumatic events. Because of shared family narratives, these children have a strong “’intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”   

Feiler goes on to say, “Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply ‘talking through problems,’ as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship… The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”  

Dr. Jane Goodall, groundbreaking primatologist, conservationist, UN Messenger for Peace and one of Time’s Most Influential People, shares a cautionary tale. When asked what failure meant to her, Goodall responded, “Failing is not living up to your values.” And you can’t live up to your values, unless you know what they are and can communicate them. Expressing our values – our north star and guiding principles – is the crucial first step to living them out. 

This includes articulating how and why you choose to give charitably, both financially and with your time. Philanthropic giving is an important way for family members to develop healthy attitudes towards helping others and being good stewards of wealth. It is also a communications onramp to more complex family topics related to a family business or family office.  Other benefits of discussing (and participating in philanthropy) with your family include strengthening family bonds, instilling a spirit of generosity, identifying needs within the community and ways the family can help, having fun together, and laying the foundation of family legacy. 

Sharing your stories and values is a meaningful gift that can have a lasting impact on your family, your philanthropic goals, and your legacy.  So, this year at your holiday table, make sure to pass the mashed potatoes, and a healthy side of family stories.   

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About JJ Langston

JJ leads Wingspan's membership program of family business and family office principals and rising leaders for an innovative community experience focused on education, collaboration, engagement, and access.